Jewish World Review Oct. 2, 2003 / 6 Tishrei, 5764

Jack Kelly

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What libs call "McCarthyism" when they aren't busy practicing it | Democrats and their allies in the news media want another slice of yellowcake, and Joseph C. Wilson IV wants another 15 minutes of fame. That, in a nutshell, is what the current controversy over whether Bush administration officials "outed" a CIA "operative" is about.

Wilson is a former ambassador to Gabon who was sent by the CIA in Feb. 2002 to Niger to determine whether or not a report by the Italian intelligence service that that Central African country had sold weapons grade uranium ore - yellowcake - to Saddam Hussein in 1999 was true.

Wilson concluded that Niger had not sold "yellowcake" to Saddam. He charged in an op-ed article in the New York Times July 6 that when President Bush said in his state of the union address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium in Africa," he was distorting intelligence for political purposes.

Britain's MI-6 said its conclusion was not based on the dubious Italian report, and maintains to this day that its intelligence was correct. And Bush said only that Saddam was trying to buy uranium, not that Niger had sold it to him. Wilson can claim "Bush lied" only by lying about what Bush said.

"Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction," Robert Novak wrote in his now famous column of July 14. "Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report."

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Plame's name came up because Novak wondered why Wilson, a partisan Democrat with no intelligence background and a vociferous critic of the Bush adminstration's policy on Iraq, had been selected for this mission.

Novak said the disclosure was inadvertent. "It was an offhand revelation from this official, who is no partisan gunslinger," he wrote in his column Oct. 1.

Novak regrets having called Plame an "Agency operative." It implies she was a spy. If Ms. Plame were a spy, then - even if inadvertent - the disclosure of her identity to a reporter is a breach of national security. If the disclosure were deliberate, it would also be a violation of U.S. law. But if Plame is what Time magazine described her at the time, "a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," then it likely is neither.

It's against the law to expose the identity of our spies because it would disrupt ongoing intelligence operations, endanger the life of the operative, and "blow the cover" of the operative, rendering him or her useless for future secret missions. But none of this applies to someone who sits at a desk in Langley analyzing information gathered by others.

Novak said a confidential source at the CIA told him "Mrs. Wilson was an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operative, and not in charge of undercover operatives." Other sources told the Washington Post that Valerie Plame was once a clandestine officer, but is now out of the field.

Inadvertent or no, harmless or no, the disclosure was wrong. The FBI is investigating. President Bush has ordered the White House staff to cooperate fully, and has promised to fire leakers if they are identified.

At a forum in Seattle, Wilson charged that White House political director Karl Rove was responsible for "outing" his wife, and that it was done deliberately, to discredit Wilson.

I'll await the outcome of the FBI investigation before coming to a conclusion, but I doubt the leak was deliberate, and I doubt Rove was involved. Novak won't reveal his source, but the political director isn't the guy a reporter would call for background on an intelligence matter. And the White House had nothing to gain by "outing" Ms. Plame. Tying Wilson - who has written for the Nation and other organs of the loopy Left - to an intelligence expert on weapons of mass destruction enhances rather than diminishes his shaky credibility. Karl Rove has been accused of many things, but stupidity isn't one of them.

When asked to provide some evidence for his charges, Wilson backed off. But this hasn't prevented many in the Democratic party and the news media from repeating them. This is what liberals call "McCarthyism" when they aren't busy practicing it.

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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